© Josh Sager – March 2014
This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the highly controversial Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby case. The Hobby Lobby case strikes at the heart of two very important political issues—corporate personhood and religious liberty—by pitting the religious entitlement of employers against the right of employees to have access to contraception coverage.
Hobby Lobby’s arguments in this case boil down to a claim that Hobby Lobby is a Christian “corporate person,” thus forcing it to pay for employees’ contraception coverage is a violation of the 1st Amendment. In effect, the Hobby Lobby owners are seeking to legitimize the imposition of their religious beliefs over all of the employees of their for-profit, public business.
The arguments of Hobby Lobby are simply ridiculous for several reasons:
- The Hobby Lobby owners claim to oppose contraception because they think that it causes a type of abortion; this is simply not true, as most hormonal contraception either prevents ovulation or the implantation of a fertilized egg, preempting pregnancies rather than terminating them.
- Corporations are legal fictions that exist to make a profit and provide limited liability to their owners—they possess no religious beliefs or even independent sentience. Allowing the beliefs of these fictional persons (which are just proxies for the real persons who own them) to trump the religious liberties of their human employees is literally unprecedented in American law.
- Until it was mandated by the ACA, Hobby Lobby covered contraception in its health plans, thus the law’s mandate didn’t actually force them to do anything.
- There is no requirement that any business provide health care as compensation for employment, so, if Hobby Lobby feels this strongly about contraception, they can simply eliminate all health insurance benefits and forgo the sizable tax benefits that come from having employer health insurance.
Unfortunately, it appears as though this case will be extremely close and that it will likely be another 5-4 split depending upon which side of sanity Kennedy decides to fall. If the case goes in favor of Hobby Lobby, it will open a legal Pandora’s box that makes it possible for corporations to snatch even more rights that belong to humanity, while retaining their legal immunity and limited liability.
If Hobby Lobby can deny contraception coverage based upon religious liberty, what’s next? Can a business refuse to cover STD treatment because they see STDs as the wrath of god on “sluts and gays?” Can it ban blood transfusions and organ transplants? Can it pay less than minimum wage and require you to work six days a week?
At the end of the day, opening this legal Pandora’s box creates chaos by allowing religious zealots and bigots legal cover for imposing their views on everybody who works for them.
The Right Wing Liberty Dissonance
The right wing has united behind the arguments of Hobby Lobby under the aegis of “religious liberty” and, in doing so, has illustrated a very important flaw in their concept of liberty: they only care about preserving liberty when they believe that the government is infringing upon it and could care less about corporations violating those same liberties.
Out of one side of their mouth, the right wing argues that the ACA is evil for getting between Americans and their doctors by mandating that certain medical procedures be covered by insurance; out of the other, they argue that private entities have the moral and legal right to get between employees and their doctors by deciding which medical procedures should be banned due to religious beliefs that the employee may or may not hold. This disparity creates an irreconcilable cognitive dissonance that brings into question the right wing’s entire definition of liberty.
The right wing view of liberty focuses almost exclusively on negative liberties restricting government action (ex. the government cannot force you to practice a religion), while rejecting almost every positive liberty (ex. the right to a public education) and negative liberty that involves private action (ex. an employer forcing employees to follow their religious beliefs).
This incredibly pinched view on liberty causes the right wing to support policies that give large and powerful economic interests the ability to restrict the liberties of others. As previously alluded to in the ACA example, the right wing actually cares more about WHO is violating liberty than the actual liberties that are being violated—if it is the elected officials of the government who are restricting liberty, the right wing see it as evil, while, if an unelected board of a corporation decides to restrict those very same liberties for their employees, the right wing sees it as just a characteristic of the free market.
In short, the right wing defense of “liberty” only extends over those with enough money to be in a position of power. This view of liberty is in no way restricted to the issue of mandated contraception insurance. Here are a few other examples:
- Many in the right wing oppose the civil rights act and would make it legal for businesses to discriminate based upon race. While they may argue that refusing minority business is evil and a bad business strategy, they also see it as a function of the “liberty” of the business owner to control their own property.
- Many in the right wing support legalized employment discrimination against gays and trans-gendered individuals—in fact, 29 states have legalized anti-LGBT discrimination in hiring and firing (ex. firing somebody for the sole reason that they are gay).
- The right wing opposes regulations that would require businesses to pay women equally with men.
The right wing’s views on liberty are not definitionally wrong, but they are limited enough that they create a world where the wealthy are able to restrict the rights of those who they employ. As employment is necessary to support a family and many Americans don’t have multiple choices of employer, this view of liberty will force many Americans to conform to religious codes of conduct that that they don’t believe in.
It matters little whether religious observance is being forced on you by the government or by a private for-profit corporation—both situations result in the same violations of your fundamental rights. Unfortunately, it appears that the right wing is blind to this fact and it is unlikely that they will open their eyes unless it begins to affect a group that they care about (ex. If Google decided that all of its employees must renounce Christianity in order to stay employed).